Appreciating the ecological service of bats
Halloween is close at hand. And bats — particularly vampire bats — Dracula, and other things that “go bump in the night” are important aspects of the holiday.
It’s interesting to note that of the 1,400 or so species of bats, there are only three species of vampire bats. All are native to Central and South America where they much prefer livestock blood over human blood. And, of course, Dracula is a figment of the imagination of Bram Stoker.
Bats are a much maligned and misunderstood animal. They are increasingly being recognized as providing a variety of ecological services. Pollination and seed dispersal by bats is a good example.
According to some estimates, more than 500 species of plants are known to be pollinated by bats, including bananas, mangos, guava, the saguaro cactus, and several species of agave including those used to make tequila and mezcal.
Although some species of bats feed on fruit, nectar, and pollen, bats are the major predators of night flying insects. A single bat has been estimated to consume around 500 mosquitos a night! And that includes mosquito species that carry the West Nile virus and malaria.
Some studies have found that agricultural insect pests comprise the majority of a bat’s diet. That insect consumption by bats has been estimated to have a positive impact on agriculture of $3 billion per year.
Bat species in decline
In the U.S., more than half of all bat species are on the decline. Some are even threatened or endangered. A fungal disease, white-nose syndrome, is killing bats at an alarming rate. Other factors such as loss of habitat also play a role.
Bats have been getting a bad rap. Although most people probably have little concern for bats, many among us simply do not like them. It is time we change our views of these misunderstood animals.
So, as you watch the fall harvest, are bitten by a mosquito or see some bats flying overhead, give some thought to the ecological services bats can provide!